Oscar Wilde abandoned journalism and hated fashion – so why is his essay “The Philosophy of Dress” so important?

ID_POPKIN_WILDE_AP_001Nathaniel Popkin writes: Oscar Wilde, says the standard biographical narrative, was trained in classics, won an Oxford award for an early poem in 1878, toured the United States lecturing on the field of Aesthetics, married, had two children, exercised latent homosexuality as he grew tired of the repetition of marriage, and exploded on the literary scene as the author of The Picture of Dorian Gray. “Now that he had accepted the same sex desire that had followed him since youth, Wilde felt liberated, happy to be alive,” writes biographer Barbara Belford in Oscar Wilde: A Certain Genius (Random House, 2000). “He embarked on his most prolific period as a writer.”

“After his marriage to Constance Lloyd in 1884 and the birth of his two sons, Wilde began to make his way into London theater, literary, and homosexual scenes,” says the biographical sketch at the beginning of the 2003 Barnes and Noble Classics edition of Dorian Gray.

Wilde’s second son Vyvyan Holland, born in 1886, in the biographical essay that accompanies the classic 1948 Collins Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (reprinted in 2001): “Upon what, then, does his reputation as an author rest? His early poems were mostly lyrical, and certain of them of will undoubtedly pass the test of time. His true literary life was spread over seven years only, from 1888 until 1894.”

Missing from these admittedly cursory sketches is the middle period of Wilde’s career, from roughly 1882 to 1888, during which he wrote dozens of mostly unsigned pieces of journalism and, for two years, was the editor of the magazineThe Woman’s World. Wilde was, in fact, so prolific a journalist and critic that his magazine and newspaper work fills two volumes, edited by John Stokes and Mark Turner, and published this month in the United States by Oxford University Press, part of the now seven volume Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Read the rest of this entry »